In the almost three hundred years since human beings had first stepped foot on the surface of the moon, growth had followed a predictable, if not wholly beneficial, pattern. After the initial excitement of actually “going there” wore off, extra terrestrial exploration and growth faltered until it became economically necessary for man to step beyond his home planet. Much like the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and any other sizable economic shift in history, it was often done piecemeal and sloppily, with a lot of wasted effort and resources.
It wasn’t long before the solar system was seemingly tapped out, as comets were harnessed for their water, and Europa was drained. Mars was terraformed, and the asteroid belt was mined. Even cold, rocky Ganymede in orbit around the king Jupiter was colonized. Seemingly massive amounts of real estate quickly became packed to capacity, with the total system wide population nearing thirty billion.
It was then that man once again turned to a long marginalized area of astronomy, the search for extra solar planets capable of sustaining human life. After aborted attempts in the early twenty first century could find nothing more than a collection of “Super-Earths” that would crush most humans with their gravitational field, science focused on the immediate problem of sustaining human life on nearby planets. Funding for finding extra solar planets was slashed, and humankind focused on developing their own neighborhood for close to two hundred years.
It was only when the terraforming of Venus failed for the fifth time that some in the system wide government looked around and realized that once again, humanity had wasted most of the bountiful resources presented to it by nature and was on the brink of crisis again. Using the best estimates, man had only a century at most, unless drastic cultural changes were made, or new options for expansion were discovered. Since the last thing humans often want is to make changes to the way they live, resources were poured once again into discovering habitable planets in at least somewhat nearby star systems.
For Professor Ravid Karrlson, it was unknowingly the way he would write his name in the history books. Born in New Tokyo and educated in Berlin, he had accepted the research position on Luna because it gave him the best chance to do what he wanted to do, look at the stars. Growing up, he had thrilled as he thought of Copernicus and Galileo using the first optical telescopes to look out into the solar system, and realize that some of the blobs of light in the sky were more than just random glowing motes in the curtain of the night.
Unfortunately for Ravid, optical telescopes were far too weak to do any of the sky gazing he had to do. Instead, modern telescopes were composed of dozens of complicated sensors that sometimes took up dozens of square kilometers of space, along with computers that, even with isolinear chips and molecular data storage capacity, took up a large room. He even had three artificial intelligences working for him, poring over the data at speeds thousands of human workers couldn’t, before he even looked at a single data display.
With close to one trillion stars in the Milky Way however, even the most advanced systems took time. Ravid could show the politicians and those in control of the money all the data he wanted, but after five years, all he had was a list of solar systems that didn’t pan out. The list was long, and the data took up teraflops of memory, but that didn’t matter to the government.
Munching on synthesized coconut ice cream, Ravid was going over the day’s reports, wondering if he could somehow spin the latest sets of figures for the budgetary committee meeting next month when his moment in history came, not with a clash of sirens or bells, but with a simple beep, and the flash of a happy face in the upper right corner of his data screen.
When he saw the face pop up, Ravid’s spoon, which had been halfway to his mouth, froze in place before tumbling from his nerveless fingers. Hurriedly wiping his sticky fingers on his jumpsuit, he tapped the screen, his ice cream and spoon forgotten. Eyes flickering from side to side, he felt sweat break out on his forehead, and his stomach balled up tight. Later, when interviewed by the Solar Broadcasting Company, he stated that the only experience he could compare it to was when he was eighteen, and had a naked girl in bed with him for the first time. “Sure, I’d practiced what I was going to do thousands of times in both instances, but when it came to go time, terror was mixed with excitement pretty equally. I’m just glad I handled it better at thirty seven than I did at eighteen.”
“Oh? And what happened at eighteen?” the interviewer, a perky brunette with a photogenic face, supermodel body, and morals of a pit viper, asked with a grin. “Anything for our listeners?”
“Nothing to brag about,” Ravid replied with a sheepish grin, his cheeks turning slightly pink. The image made him even more famous, and within a year he had gotten marriage proposals from over one million women, including a famous porn starlet who swore she could turn him into an expert lover regardless.
Ravid’s discovery was simple and profound. First classified as YT-X7-4B, then renamed Karrlson’s Rock before the government stepped in, the planet was as close to Earth as had ever been found before. Orbiting a star both younger and larger than Sol, it still was within the so-called “Goldilocks zone.” A perfect nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere combined with a mass only ten percent heavier than Earth’s. Almost eighty percent of the surface was covered in water, and by all initial readings the planet was perfect for human life. It even had two moons, which provided tides and protected the planet from meteor strikes. In fact, the only major difference between Karrlson’s Rock and Earth was the length of its year, which was nearly three times that of Earth. Dying at thirty ‘years’ old would be commonplace.
Once his discovery was confirmed, Ravid Karrlson became more of a public figure than a scientist, and his work was taken over by engineers and scientists in other fields. Knowing about Iðavöllr (as it had been renamed) was only part of the problem. Getting people there was the bigger issue. While faster than light communication had been conquered early in the twenty second century, FTL drives for physical matter had been a much more difficult challenge. Despite development of warp bubble theory, the largest object yet sent through warp space and confirmed to have survived were barely larger than the typical office desk. A few pundits cracked jokes about building a billion “space coffins” for the mission, before the censors stepped in and shut them up.
Another concern by the Solar government was support. With resources already stretched, any colonization attempt would have to be a self sufficient mission, able to survive years without exterior support. There was no way they could build two ships at a time, even if they could figure out just how the hell to get them to Iðavöllr. The facilities and resources just didn’t exist.
The big breakthrough came when the CyberGalactic Corporation partnered with ExpandedReality Ltd. The credit was claimed by both companies, and ended up going into litigation that stretched out until both companies were bankrupt. Not too many people were upset over it, since both were due to obtain enough money to bankrupt Mars at least.
The biggest problem facing the designers was power supply. Geometry states that as a sphere expands, the surface area of the sphere increases not linearly, but by a cubic factor. If you double the size of your sphere, you create eight times the amount of surface area. Tripling the size requires twenty seven times the surface area, and so on and so forth. In the realm of warp bubble generation, surface area equated to power. There was no technology in human science that could create the power needed to generate a stable warp bubble large enough for a colony ship, it would take a fusion reactor the size of a medium sized apartment building, even before any sort of radiation shielding, fuel supply, or other necessities. The pure amount of size needed was stopping the colony ship.
In the end, the solution was elegant, dangerous, and groundbreaking. By combining fusion technology with controlled anti-matter explosions, the ship would be able to generate enough power to run the ship, provided the ship stopped at regular intervals to collect interstellar fuel, in what the designers called a “lily pad” arrangement. By eliminating the huge fuel tanks, the ship could just squeeze inside the possible warp bubble when combined with the new power supply arrangement. Of course, there were plenty of dangers too. If the ship miscalculated any of their jumps by more than five percent, it would run out of fuel.
With the major design flaws taken care of, the government turned its attention to the ship’s crew. Debates raged among the various political factions, until once again economic and political expediency took over. Population was the biggest pressure in the colonization effort, and the powers that be wanted real estate that other people were living in. The problem was that, regardless of power, there were laws in place that were hard to circumvent. In setting up the colony program, the unspoken goal was to free up valuable areas for those who wanted it. As such, the use of the media was required.
The media campaign was unprecedented, and carefully planned. The first wave of the campaign came through the political pundits and talking heads, who carefully crafted their commentary to stoke the twin goals of sowing economic discontent and the idea of new frontiers. A lot of it required subtle timing and juxtaposition, combined with data mining of social media commentary. Regardless of what privacy laws were put in place, the government could read every packet of data that crossed the solar system if they wished. Instead of taking out enemies however, they used this informational intelligence to instead steer the public opinion. It was much more effective than direct action anyway.
After a year of stoking the fires of public discontent, the next phase of the plan was launched. With great fanfare, the existence of the new stardrive design was revealed, and plans were announced for a new government program for development of large scale interstellar ships. While the idea of a colony program was not specifically announced, the government let the people put together the ideas on their own. It wasn’t long, hours in fact, before the first public petitions (electronically signed by eight million) reached the government’s servers. By the end of the first week, over one hundred million people had signed various electronic petitions requesting colonial programs, deep space exploration, and various other ideas.
The trickiest phase of the government’s plan came next. With public pressure at a high, the government had to look inept and careless, or at least partially corrupt. Unleashing the media again, populist politicians and media personalities cast doubt on any unannounced governmental plans for picking colonists, making it seem as if the system was corrupt. “Only those who have ties to the power players in the government are going to get this opportunity when it arises!” Takahiro O’Shea, one of the most popular media icons, blared one day. “This corrupt system of currying favor for your friends has got to stop! What are you supposed to do if you are what our leaders call Dirts? Stuck in your dead-end jobs, economically and politically bereft of any power or influence, you’re stuck while the Quals march onto their shiny new colony ship to go off to the stars, and to a cleaner, better future. Perhaps it’s time to raise a ruckus, and storm the new Bastille?”
The results were predictable, especially among the Dirts. Outcry started, and tension ratcheted up in the Dirt enclaves. The police responded by increasing both the number and the severity of their patrols, until the inevitable happened. On Mars, a police arrest of a forty year old Dirt man who had been violating curfew due to working overtime at his job, ended in a police shooting. Within a week, another shooting in South America led to riots, and an outcry for justice. When the flames were high enough, the government stepped in, the President declaring he will be making a public statement at noon, Greenwhich time. The riots subsided momentarily, while the Solar System turned its attention to the President, who spoke from in front of the classic facade of Buckingham Palace.
“Citizens of the Solar System, good afternoon, wherever and whenever you are.
“Recently, we have watched as neighborhoods have burned, torn apart by social upheaval. Regardless of the reason behind the upheaval, businesses have closed, homes have been destroyed, and innocent men and women lie bleeding in the streets. Now, there are some in our society who claim that since these riots have been confined to the areas inhabited by those who are commonly called Dirts, that it doesn’t matter. They’re just Dirts, you say, let them destroy themselves.
“I cannot let that happen. I was elected to represent and lead all of humanity, Qualified and Unqualified. I refuse to use the word Dirt for those who are not Qualified any longer. For you, the Unqualified, I say here today that we are going to institute changes. I have already spoken to the leaders of the System Congress, and have submitted bills to speak.
“Long before we had a System-wide government, the nations of this planet represented many different areas. I myself come from North America, where about six hundred years ago another group of what we can only call Unqualifieds stood up against the man who lived in this building behind me now. They rioted, they looted, they burned, they fought, and they won their freedom. From them, a new society rose, one which a few hundred years later became the most powerful on Earth at the time. While that nation, America, has faded into the pages of history, the fact is some of their ideas have stood the test of the centuries.
“Opportunity should not be limited to just those who are Qualified. History has shown us that regardless of their status, every human being has the potential to make something of themselves. While our current society tries to provide that opportunity for everyone, the fact is that some manifest their talents at times later than others. Some manifest those talents in situations they would never have before. Abraham Lincoln was a failure as a lawyer, and was barely mediocre as a state legislator. Yet, when confronted with the crisis of the First American Civil War, he led the nation and held it together.
“Even in more modern history, we see this lesson. Tamara Villalobos Griorgina was born to one of the most extreme levels of poverty ever seen. Growing up in the Australian outback, she writes in her autobiography that she often had to catch locusts that would infest the solar farm her father worked at in order to have enough to eat. Yet, she went on to pass her Qualified exam and stand where I am today, as President of the Solar System.
“Therefore, in agreement with the heads of the Space Agency and with the leaders of the major parties of the System Congress, I am pleased to announce that opportunity has again arisen for every resident of the Solar System, Qualified and Unqualified alike, one that hasn’t been seen in human society in two centuries.
“Five years ago, we as a people were greeted with great news, long in the waiting. Professor Ravid Karrlson discovered the first truly Earth like planet in orbit around another star. While Professor Karrlson has been rewarded greatly for his efforts including the Nobel Prize, his discovery sat dormant for far too long, tantalizingly out of reach due to the limits of our technology. Recent technological breakthroughs however have allowed us a new future. Starting in two weeks, construction begins on humanity’s first interstellar colony ship. This new kind of vessel will be the first of many, to take humanity out of just our neighborhood and into the wider galactic neighborhood. As such, it is with only a hint of sentimentality that we have agreed to name the ship Glorious Enterprise.
“The Enterprise is designed to be able to carry five thousand colonists from our Solar System to Iðavöllr and allow them to set up the first human colony on another Earth like planet. While the ship’s crew will be made up of mostly Qualified individuals in order to ensure those with sufficient levels of skill and education are present on this adventure, they make up only one hundred members of the total crew. The rest of the crew will be colonists, composed of both Qualified and Unqualified members alike.
“At the behest of the Party for an Equal Society, I have agreed that the colonial crew will reflect human society, with two thirds of the remaining colonists coming from the Unqualified. With that in mind, I am announcing the Great Colonial Lottery. All Unqualified citizens of the Solar System who wish will be eligible to enter a random lottery for slots on the Enterprise, and for later consideration upon her sister ship to launch later, the Columbia Ascendant. Upon reaching Iðavöllr, the potential and possibilities of a new world await anyone who can seize it in their own two hands.
“With that however, there are certain rules that must apply. Only those who are citizens of the Solar System are eligible for the Lottery. As such, those of you who are rioting, or are convicted of a felony, will be stripped of your eligibility for the Lottery. So I advise all of you who are rioting now, go home. Put down your rocks and your firebombs, and rebuild. Enter the Lottery, and take control of your own future. I thank you, and wish everyone the best of luck.”
The few members of the assembled press corps called out questions, but the President ignored them, going inside Buckingham Palace without another word. By the end of the news day however, the details had emerged, released by his press office. There wasn’t much that wasn’t already known.
Any citizen with voting rights (Qualified or Unqualified) had the opportunity to enter for one of the slots available to their particular group. Officially, that meant of the 5000 colonists (the crew would be separate), one thousand would be for Qualified colonists, while another 4000 would be set aside for Unqualified colonists. The only requirements were to be healthy, and between the ages of fifteen and forty five. If you wished to enter, you only had to go to a governmental health facility to get a checkup and enter your name. Two thousand Quals and five thousand Unquals would be picked, with the leftovers being backups and offered first slot on the Columbia.
The results were just as those in power anticipated. Within twenty four hours, those in the most severely affected areas of rioting quieted down, while those in the areas where tension was high but nothing had broken out yet were flooding their local health facilities in order to sign up for the trip. Of course, few if any of the potential colonists noticed the fact that by accepting a berth upon the Glorious Enterprise, they were rescinding all claims to land or property within the Terran solar system.
Just as the powers that be intended.
Her hands ached, and her lower back was on fire. Even with the padding and assistance of the atmospheric suit, clearing rocks for expansion of Luna City wasn’t easy. The idea that having only 1/6th gravity helped was moot after a while, when you added in the bulkiness of the suit, lack of mobility, and constant adjustment due to lack of physics. It’s difficult and tiring to use a jackhammer when the hammer was as likely to send the user flying as it was to crack the rock.
Walking into the dingy, dirty locker room and pulling off her helmet, Katrina Cole sighed. Shaking her sweaty, matted hair loose from the ponytail she had yanked it into, she took a moment to adjust as she let the artificial gravity slowly bring her back up to her Earth weight of a hundred and twenty five pounds. Living in the Dirt areas though, the gravity fields were never perfect, and she knew she could fluctuate between a hundred and a hundred and forty pounds in the space of just a few steps.
“Did you hear about the President’s announcement?” the man next to her, another Dirt named Gauis Roberts said. He rubbed his hands through his tightly cropped kinky black hair, grinning. “Man, what an opportunity!”
“To do what? Work for the Quals a thousand light years away from Earth instead of here on the moon?” she asked, rolling her neck. The company had cut corners when they bought their suits, and she was stuck between choosing one that was supposed to only be for people under five foot six, or take the jump to the suit meant for people five foot ten. At five seven, she preferred to wedge herself into the smaller suit, despite it kinking her neck horribly. As least she could move in it. “Sorry Gaius. It was a tough shift today.”
Before Gaius could reply, a voice came over the intercom. “Cole. Report to the foreman’s office when you are changed. Acknowledge.”
“Understood,” Katrina said, thumbing the button by the speaker. Sighing, she looked at Gaius, who shook his head commiseratingly. “Well, we both know what that means.”
“Damn Katrina, sorry about that,” Gaius said. “You’ve been pretty good to work with these past two weeks.”
“You know I’ll see you picking up garbage next week, Gaius, or something similar. Hell, if we’re lucky, we’ll get an hourly job in the Qual domes.” Katrina went back to her locker and turned her back to Gaius. Dirt changing rooms were always unisex in order to save money for the Quals, and she knew that Gaius had turned his back as well. They may be treated like Dirt, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t do what they could to try and have some self-respect. “You ever work in the Qual domes?”
“I had a one night gig once, working as wait staff at a Qual cocktail party,” Gaius replied as Katrina pulled her sweat stained undershirt off and wiped down with the chemical cloth that would have to substitute for a shower until her next rationed shower in three days. “I’ll be honest, I felt weird wearing that old style tuxedo with tails. Although the white coat did look pretty impressive against me.”
Katrina chuckled. Gaius did have one of the darker shades of brown skin she had seen on the moon, a deep mahogany she knew came from his background. While most of humanity had merged into a hodgepodge of racial characteristics (it was not that uncommon to see blue eyes with so called Asiatic hair, or dark brown skin with natural blonde hair) Gaius Roberts was still as West Indies as you could find. “Better than me. I got hired for two weeks to take care of a Qual baby. Fired when the father told me what part of my duties included, at least when his wife wasn’t around.”
Katrina pulled her off-work jumpsuit on, and ran a quick ion brush through her hair. Fastening the collar, she glanced over her shoulder quickly to see if Gaius was decent. While he hadn’t finished pulling on his boots, he had his pants and undershirt on at least, Gaius favoring the older style of clothing, claiming it let him use the toilet easier. “Take care, Gaius,” she said, offering her hand. “I’ll see you around.”
They bumped fists, and Katrina left the small locker room to walk over to the foreman’s office. She knew she couldn’t be too mad at the foreman, he was a Dirt just like almost everyone in the company. Still, he had a fixed contract, and took home enough at the end of each month to be able to actually afford having a family. At least for a Dirt, the foreman lived like a king.
She knocked on the door frame, missing the sound of knocking on real wood. She had grown up in Australia, and the constant use of plastics and metals on Luna grated at her nerves. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yeah Katrina. Come in.” The foreman thumbed a button on his desk, and the door closed shut automatically after she stepped through and sat down. “I guess you know what I’m going to say.”
“That I’m out of a job,” she sighed, rubbing at her temples. “Did they give you any reason at all?”
“No,” he said, reaching into his desk and pulling out an envelope. She knew what was inside: a form letter thanking her for her labor, printed on the thinnest recyclable plastic ‘paper’ available, and a note stating her final pay amount, which would be deposited in her Luna City Bank account at the first of the following month. She was supposed to recycle the paper, but she had started collecting them since moving to Luna. So far, in two years, the pile had grown to almost an inch high. “Can I offer you some advice?”
“Go ahead,” Karina said, tucking the unopened envelope in her pocket.
“You’re still young and pretty, Cole. I’ve seen your test scores when you were hired, you were pretty close to making the Qual scores, even though you didn’t have any of the prep. Your PQ scores are more than high enough, at least. Why not try and use what you’ve got, and find a low level Qual to work for?”
“And become a whore, more or less?” she asked, more heat in her voice than she had intended. “Would you tell your wife that, or your daughter?”
The foreman bit his lip, stifling his first reply before shaking his head. “No, I guess I wouldn’t. Although if you’ve ever met my wife, you’d know why. Wonderful woman, great wife and mother, but she’d never get considered for a job like that.”
“Let’s face it man, that Cinderella fantasy crap is just that, a fairy tale told to Dirt girls like me to try and get us to spread our legs for Qual men who just want to walk on the wild side,” she said, standing up. “But I’ve never heard of the servant becoming the princess in real life. Tell me one thing, before I go?”
“If it were up to you, would you re-hire me?” It was the only question Katrina ever asked any of the companies who let her go. She felt like it was the only accurate measurement of her utility as a worker.
“In a heartbeat,” the foreman said honestly. “Although if it were up to me, I’d get you a suit meant for five-eight as well.”
“Thanks. I mean that. Well, I better get going, I don’t have the cash for a bus ride back to my room. Take care.” She didn’t use the foreman’s name, she honestly couldn’t remember it anyway. He was just one in a long line of foremen, managers, and bosses she had worked for since turning eighteen and leaving formal education.
“Take care of yourself, Cole.”
The streets of the industrial portion of Luna City were wider than those in the residential area, in order to allow for the larger industrial transport hovercraft that were sometimes used. Still, the lighting was dim, and Katrina hurried as she made her way towards the Dirt residential district. Crime wasn’t as bad in the industrial areas as it was in what the residents called the Dirt-Light district, but she still didn’t want to dally.
As she walked, her mind went back to what the foreman had said about her Qual tests, the comment triggering a memory of her high school history class. Her teacher, a Qual woman (all schools, by law, had to have at least 25% Qual teachers) named Mrs. Alaya, had been one of her favorite teachers not only for making class interesting, but also by being willing to set aside the bullshit of the approved textbooks in order to tell the hard truth sometimes.
“As the twenty first century wore on, the major powers in the world saw the re-emergence of a pattern that had led to two world wars, a Cold War, and numerous other conflicts,” Mrs. Alaya said, closing her text book. Most of the students, knowing they had no chance of ever passing the Qual test, tolerated the lecture quietly. Some slept, some played on their desk tablets. But seventeen year old Katrina Cole listened intently. There was still a chance for her. “China and the United States, were becoming the two new poles for the twenty first century powers. Russia additionally, with its high levels of petroleum resources, was a minor third pole that could throw things into chaos as well.
“Unfortunately for all of the major powers, they all faced a similar problem, as age and public debts threatened to not only crush their economies, but also to push both sides closer to war as politicians who were far too old to actually pick up a rifle, and had a nostalgic view of their own youth, rattled their sabers. This was added to by the fact that growth and labor were now in other countries, and all of the major powers had hollowed out domestic economies.
“When China and Japan got into a shooting war over a disputed set of islands, much of the world held their breath in fear that it would be the spark that would set off another cascade effect similar to what led to World War I. However, the United States, in what some thought was defiance of the security treaties they had signed with the Japanese, instead acted as mediators instead of co-combatants. Negotiating a peace led to the formation of a Greater Asia, which when combined with the already existing European Union, triggered the formation of first the regional super-nations, before a true Earth-wide government emerged early in the twenty second century.
“One of the unique cultural institutions that grew out of this convergence of nations is the Qual test. Combining unique aspects of the Asian systems which drew inspiration from Confucian philosophy, and Western European egalitarianism, the Qual test is meant to ensure that only those who are mentally and morally prepared were to take leadership positions within the new Earth-wide society. All young adults have two chances to take the Qual test, once at eighteen and another at twenty. Those who pass the test, in addition to the opportunities afforded them in terms of job placement and training, also have certain rights and privileges that those who do not pass the test don’t have.”
At the mention of rights and privileges, one of the students, a young boy named Ivan, chuckled. “Yeah, us Dirts have to bust our ass to put potatoes on the table, while Quals eat steak every day.”
“Actually Ivan, I only eat steak once a week,” Mrs. Alaya rejoindered. “And you know what I do with my other money. According to your text books, as additional incentive to passing the Qual test, the government also deemed that only those who Qualified can write their own wills and pass on an inheritance, and that in terms of elections, Qualified votes count for more than Unqualified votes. The amount of that difference has varied over time.”
As Katrina walked, she reflected bitterly on Mrs. Alaya’s lesson, and what the history books hadn’t told her. In order to try and ensure that only those who were already Qual would have their children also become Qual, the government had adjusted the test as time went on. What had begun as a simple IQ test had become a two day marathon of rote memorization and problem solving, many of the questions phrased or formed in such a way that only those who could afford very expensive test preparation courses would even have a chance to pass them. Since only Qualified families could work jobs that made enough money to pay for the courses, or the private schools that actually taught what was on the test, over 99.5% of the people who passed the Qual test each year came from already existing Qual families. The other .5% were either extreme geniuses, or those whose parents curried favor from their Qual employers. The result was a calcified, caste based society of two groups, the Quals who could dominate politically, economically, but were only twenty percent of the population (and whose votes in the so-called democracy counted for seven times the Unqualified vote), and the Unqualified “Dirts” who scrabbled for any job they could get, and whose lives were not much better than what their grandparents had been. Katrina reflected as she walked, she had never seen a Qual child with uneven teeth, or even pimples. Meanwhile, even with the genetic advantages of her quickly healing skin, she had a few scars, and had to take pills for two years, treating an impacted wisdom tooth until she had paid a friend five hard earned dollars to punch her jaw hard enough to break it, and get it treated by the emergency room where the tooth was removed as part of setting the bone.
A buzzing sound caught Katrina’s attention, and she looked up, realizing she had already left the industrial district and was approaching the Dirt residential areas. The buzzing was created by a flashing light outside the health clinic, the very same one where her wisdom tooth had been pulled in fact. The light was part of a display, advertising the Colonial Lottery. On a whim, Katrina walked over, figuring it couldn’t hurt. If the line was too long, she’d just go home any way. There was some reprocessed protein supplement she could eat there at least.
The line was short however, and she was sitting in a diagnostic machine within minutes, waiting as it hummed and scanned her body carefully. There were only a few beeps, each of them when the scanner was over areas where she had previously had medical treatments, so nothing she didn’t expect. After about three minutes, the machine stopped, and she waited patiently for someone to come into the room. She didn’t have to wait long, as a doctor (all doctors were, by law, Qual) came in carrying a tablet with her results. He looked young, fresh out of medical school, maybe even her age. “Miss Cole?”
“Yes Doctor,” she said, falling into the loathed habit of addressing all Quals by their title or by name and title. It wasn’t law, but if she wanted to maintain a halfway decent reputation for day labor offices, she observed the rule. “How was my test?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. Your broken jaw shows no signs of further injury, and the tendon repair on your right bicep seems stronger than even normal baseline. Whoever your surgeon was, he is very good.”
Katrina didn’t want to mention the fact that the reason her arm was stronger than baseline was because baseline was determined from a Qual set of standards, and her body overall was stronger from years of physical labor. “Thank you, Doctor. But you seem concerned?”
“Just a few readings that seem a bit off. You have some neck pain?”
“I just got off work, Doctor. Rock clearing on the surface for the new dome. The suit I had didn’t fit very well. It’ll be gone by morning.”
“I understand,” the doctor replied, even though he clearly didn’t. “Well, it is nothing to disqualify you anyway. All I need is for you to put your code and thumbprint on this tablet, and you’ll be entered.”
Katrina did what was asked, laughing to herself at the irrational hope that flared through her as she did. It must be part of being human, she though, hoping to hit the big win, even if the big win wasn’t really all that much. Thanking the Doctor, she made her way back to her tiny one room living quarters, so small she couldn’t even call it an apartment. She had visited New Tokyo once, seeing a recreation of a twentieth century “capsule hotel.” While her space was larger than that, is wasn’t by much, as her bed tripled as her couch, her dining room chair, and with a small metal shelf pulled over the end where her feet rested, was also her entertainment center, computer desk, and writing surface on the rare occasion she had to write. She took off her jumpsuit and hung it on its hanger flat against the wall, relaxing in her underpants and tank top only. Reaching toward the tiny one square meter refrigeration unit that she had underneath her bed, she pulled out one of her two protein supplements. She was hungry, but with losing her temporary job, the fifth in three months, she was saving every credit she could. At least she hadn’t had to go trash pile mining for restaurant remnants yet.
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